September 14 (RNS)--Forty-four percent of Protestant pastors support the use ofmarijuana for medicinal purposes, while only about 20 percent supportdecriminalizing the non-medicinal use of marijuana, according to a newsurvey.

The study of 518 Protestant ministers, commissioned by Phoenix-basedEllison Research, found surprisingly strong support for the use ofmarijuana to relieve pain for patients with cancer and other medicalailments.

Similar to a recent Ellison survey on the death penalty, the studyfound stronger support for medicinal marijuana use from pastorsaffiliated with the National Council of Churches as opposed to the moreconservative National Association of Evangelicals.

Among NCC-affiliated pastors, 66 percent supported medicinalmarijuana use while 33 percent opposed it. The numbers were almostexactly opposite for NAE-affiliated pastors, with only 31 percentsupporting it and 69 percent opposed.

Ron Sellers, the firm's president, said the most interestingfindings lie in the difference between pastors who either "strongly" or"somewhat" oppose or support the policy. The number of pastors who havelukewarm feelings on the subject--58 percent--is larger than thenumber who feel "strongly" either way, about 42 percent.

"Many ministers may be trying to balance a strong anti-drug positionwith compassion for people who have medical problems," Sellers said.

Sellers also noted that when asked about decriminalizing marijuana,older pastors were surprisingly more supportive.

Just 4 percent ofpastors under the age of 45 supported legalizing marijuana, while 12percent of pastors over the age of 60 supported it.

The survey of 508 pastors had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3percentage points.